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First year, I made 130 different cheeses. story of chrisantos Manos Karavias, whose life is spread between santorini and ithaca

It's a very good job! Everybody sells milk on Kefalonia, but nobody makes cheese here on Ithaca, except at home. Who wants that? The first year, I made 130 different cheeses. Every year I find something new, every single year. On Santorini, they make sweet wine. They put the grapes in the sun for six days. I leave them for twenty one days, three weeks. It’s so sweet! If you go to the church, the priest will give you that wine. I have that wine for 30 years. I put some white cheese with wine, Vinsanto, for 24 hours. After that, it's fantastic! I play a little bit with the olive oil, too. The yellow cheese doesn't like the olive oil, but white cheese says "yes, I want to swim in it!" [laughs] I don't like to make feta cheese. Everybody makes feta, it's very easy. I like to play and make something different. I look on the Internet, I go to the mainland, I talk to many people, and I try to find different solutions.

I have 20 apartments on Santorini, that’s enough. Here, I buy land, but I don’t want to make a hotel here. I would like to build a small house, at the entrance of the bay ... There are too many houses in Vathy (Ithaca), I don’t like it. I bought a very old house in Lefki (Ithaca) and I’m going to repair it, and up on the road I made a gallery. I have a very good friend, a captain, he is Croatian, but he lives in Slovenia. My friend is coming to stay in Ithaca, and he and his wife will start a gallery in Lefki. It’s nice there, it’s easy, there’s only one restaurant in Lefki.

On Aegean sea, the winds are strong, it’s very different. Here, it’s calm. There are not so many olive trees. Ionian island are different, they are like Dalmatian islands. Santorini has 200,000 beds and 187 charter planes a week from Europe, 3–5 cruise ships a day, 12,000 people for a few hours! Traffic everywhere … It’s crazy. The people, they collect the money. It’s just business and money. No olives, no cheese, no animals, nothing else. I came here (on Ithaca) in 2000 and nobody talks about business and money, and I said "OK, this is the island for you."

South Itaka

There are 3,000 people living on Ithaca. On Santorini, there are 13,000 locals, 6,500 Albanians, and 10,000 people from Greece that come for bushiness and don’t live there the whole year. It’s too much for Santorini, for its size. They are building non-stop. It used to be 12 villages, and 11 of them are now one big city. On Zakynthos everybody is building – hotels, restaurants, bars ... On Ithaca, you can find people that think like me, about trees, olives, wine, beer, but in two or three years it will be completely different. They have nice cheese, nice honey … But it will be different.

Kostas Lialios, chief engineer The idea came 3 years ago from Chrisantos. There are lots of sheep on the island. One sheep will produce 700 grams of milk a day. This kind of milk has a lot of protein (5–6%) and fat (5–7%) That’s why we produce more cheese, due to higher protein content. The breed is from the island, it’s very strong as it's not dependent on the weather – they will produce milk no matter what. They don’t need much food, what they find in nature is enough. There used to be many sheep on the island, back in the 1970’s. We don’t know the exact number of them now, because a lot of them are living in the wild. This year, we got milk from 2,000 sheep. Chrisantos started this because there was a lot of milk and he wanted to help the community. Before, people milked their sheep only little by little, just for themselves. As for the other islands, cheese is produced mostly on Crete, less so on Kefalonia and Limnos. Here in Greece, the laws are complicated, you need to have lots of papers from the authorities, so it’s very difficult, but we would like for the business to grow, we would like to do it. Local people support us; they like our cheese and they are buying it. Last year, we didn’t have any cheese left in our fridges, they bought it all. We produce 20 tonnes per year (from about 80 tonnes of milk). Other companies, bigger ones, produce about 150 tonnes per year. We don’t produce much, but our main goal is quality. People are not interested in farming more sheep, it's hard work. Also, you have to spend a lot of money to be a sheep farmer, because you have to buy more food for them. If you want quality milk, you have to add more food. So, for bigger numbers of sheep (and more milk), they would have to have more food. The farmers are satisfied with the price; we pay around 90 cents for a litre. And it's hand milked, the traditional way.
Chrisantos started his cheese business because there was a lot of milk and he wanted to help the community.

My factory (on Ithaca) is small; we collect 1,500 kg of milk every two days. On Kefalonia, every milk factory has 30 tonnes a day. The milk on Ithaca is unique, it’s different, but there is less of it here, and the cost is higher, so I take it from the mainland. I would like to collect 5 tonnes a day, but I only collect 750 kg. This is for 4 months, but the factory is working eight month. We will go for fishing, restaurant, we will open a bar, offer rooms … I have a very good idea, I haven't told the locals about it yet. I have a hotel on Santorini, it’s called Homeric Poems. In a few months, I’ll have the approval from the government, and I already have a name for a new factory: Ithaca’s Poem. Here, I have 1,500 kg in two days, but I go to Troy (which is in Turkey now!) and I make the rest, 30, 40 tonnes a day, three different milks. The factory will be ready in one month. So there will be Ithaca Odyssey brand cheese from here, and from Troy Iliad from Troy. Different taste, different ideas, and different price, of course. From Troy, I send the cheese to AmericaWhy did I start all this? I don’t know … Every day is different. I spoke with some Greek people there and I started a small company for export of the cheese. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I hope everything goes well [laughs].

I don’t take out anything, everything is inside. The milk cooks for 20 minutes, and after that you put in bacteria, imported from Italy. In Greece, 20 packets cost 20 cents, and it’s enough to make 1,000 liters. I buy it in Italy, where the price is 3,5 to 5,5 EUR for 1,000 liters. But everything goes up very quickly, in 20 minutes, and you begin to smell cheese. I don't want to spoil it for 20 cents.

You can’t make wine on Ithaca, because there are olive trees everywhere. So cheese, olive oil and beer it is ... But fresh beer! Beer is very easy, I learned from books … I have an idea, an original idea, to make beer from millet. You collect it every three months. I make normal beer, it’s very easy, but this one is unique. I haven’t tried it yet. Santorini is a volcanic island, there are grapes everywhere, it’s perfect for wine. But here, there are so many olive trees, it’s difficult.

The Aegean Sea has a very big problem with Turkey and emigrants, so there are 60% less cruise ships. Egypt, Israel and Turkey are closed. Everybody is coming to Ionian Islands now. Last year, it was the first time that taverns and restaurants closed at the end of October. People feel safer here. In a few years, doors will open for Ithaca a bit more. (a view over Vathy bay, Ithaca)

I grew up on Santorini, went to school there. It is smaller, one side is cliff, and the other side is normal. I worked there for many years, and I’m okay now, my family is here on Ithaca. My grandfather is a ship agent, my father, myself. And now, my son as well. I worked as first officer on ships, and that is good because I have gained many experience, and in my job, that’s what counts the most. I worked with my father. For me, it’s very easy, because when I’m going on board, I know everything. I talk to the captains and I explain the local situation, small bays … Now the ships are full of technology, but I know how to explain to the captain how to navigate the bays. I have three kids – the twins are 27 years old, and the third one is 28 years old and works in Athens as a veterinarian. The twins work on Santorini for 7 months, and the rest of the year they are here. For me, it’s very important to travel (Kefalonia, Athens, Istanbul). There is a big conference on cruising and cruise ships in Miami every year, the biggest in the world, and I went there.

  • It was my job for many years to bring cruise ships here (Greece). I organize the arrival of cruise ships to Santorini and the tours around the island (archaeological sites, wineries, taverns …). It’s only for the money. I know everybody; it’s that kind of business. I went to Miami and I know all the companies. So when they asked me here in Vathy (Ithaca) to bring cruise ships, I said yes, but didn’t give them any information ... That was it ... In 5 minutes, it was done... "Yes" can sometimes mean "no" here.
  • They are not ships, they are hotels. The boss inside is not the captain, it’s the hotel manager. This is a problem. He doesn’t understand if it’s too much wind because he is a hotel manager. But all ships are like that now. They only stay for a short while, because the less time you have on the island, the more money you can spend on the ship, and they take revenues from shops, restaurants, bars … They leave and then slowly, slowly cruise to the Adriatic, so you have a whole night and day on board. And you have 36 hours inside, with swimming pools, bars, everything. They are hotels, not ships.

People on Santorini do it for the money, they don’t understand. I see my friends only late at night, and really quickly. Everybody talks about money. I don’t like that. For my cheese factory on Ithaca, I spend money, I don’t collect it [laughs]. I give, and I like that. I take money from Santorini; I don’t like to take money from here. I like it here. This is Ithaca.

Vathy, Ithaca
Kefalonia, view from Ithaca

Kefalonia is the biggest island. I don’t like it, Last year, they had 19 cruise ships. It’s the same philosophy. I have to go there if I have to do something (like business with the government). Everything is there; here, on Ithaca, we only have a post office, that’s it.

The best time here is in the night, when you see the lights in the sea. It is calm, it is perfect.
Ithaca today is Santorini from 40 years ago, easy … The government is selling everything now, the country is sold out.

Future of Ithaca? Look, for many years, local people stayed on the entrance of the Vathy bay, with their doors closed. You could just pass through with a little sailing boat. Everybody knows Ithaca. Everybody! The locals don’t want more people to come. There are only 800 beds (hotels, rooms) on the island. That’s it. But one day, if the doors open, Ithaca will be like Santorini or Mykonos. You lose the island. One day, the doors will open, and after that …

I try to find the modern Odysseus. People are returning from Australia, South Africa, they are local people, and they are coming back, like modern Odysseus. I find that people take pictures, write their stories ... Two people from Stavros, Yannis and his wife, 82 years old ... They are fantastic people. I will go there once a week, quarter to twelve, and visit them, talk to Yiannis, drink some wine, listen to him. He always has new stories, I collected many stories, many videos there throughout the years.

This story is linked to Panos story, whose life is dadicated to animal farmnig, goats and sheep mostly. He could do other work, but that is what he loves most ! Since This story is linked to Panos story, whose life is dadicated to animal farmnig, goats and sheep mostly. He could do other work, but that is what he loves most ! Since Krisantos set up his chees factory on the island he supliers and lives from local chees factory. It is a familly busness of 1500 animals and best traditionall coffee place in town... foll the story here

Released by MED Land project / photography, audio conversations, editing: BB / self-portrait: Chrisantos Manos Karavias/ on-location team: Chrisantos Manos Karavias, Marko Vodanović, BB / research: Nejc Jordan, BB / transcript: Andrea Devlahovič/ text edited by: Tadej Turenšek/ godfather of the story Jelka Brecelj

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Bojan Brecelj
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